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The YMCA of Greenville’s RECESS program allows adults with diverse abilities to learn life skills. 

For most people, the word recess means taking a short break or it elicits fond memories of elementary school. However, at the YMCA of Greenville, recess means much more. 

In 2013, the Y created the Recreation, Education, Community, Exercise, Social and Service (RECESS) program after recognizing the complex economic challenges facing individuals with diverse abilities that prevents them from participating in specialized enrichment programs for skill development, social experience, and overall health and wellness.

The program aligns with the Y’s mission: to ensure everyone in the community — regardless of age, race, religion, ability, gender or income level — has the opportunity to reach their full potential with dignity.

“Advancing this mission involves an organizational commitment to offer programs that support the unique needs of diverse, underserved and isolated groups in the community,” said Sarah Jenkins, the development specialist at the Caine Halter Family YMCA, a branch of the YMCA of Greenville. “This pledge, along with the YMCA’s core belief that an organization is stronger when it is inclusive of all people, was the foundation for the establishment of the RECESS program.”

In a typical day, participants grow their social skills by engaging in conversations with their friends and staff. Through lessons and hands-on activities, participants develop their independent living skills, such as cooking and eating healthy foods, cleaning, exercise and proper hygiene.

“At RECESS, participants learn the social responsibility of being involved in their community through serving others,” said Rebekah Cunningham, the RECESS program manager. “We have partnered with Ronald McDonald House, Habitat for Humanity and Meals on Wheels, as well as local assisted-living facilities and childcare preschool facilities like our YMCA Judson Community Center.”

A key component of the program is preparing participates for work. Jenkins explained for many people, work is essential to their sense of worth and accomplishment, livelihood, and overall life satisfaction.

“Finding the right job is challenging,” said Jenkins. “It is even more difficult for people with diverse abilities. RECESS participants have career goals just like their non-disabled peers, only with differing strengths and skill sets.”

Through working with this population, the YMCA of Greenville has experienced firsthand the benefits of including adults with diverse abilities in hiring policies that result in a vibrant, diverse workplace.

“A RECESS job coach not only equips participants with the skills they need to be successful, but also alleviates employers’ most common concerns regarding cost, skill and experience of these individuals,” said Jenkins. “This focus makes a strong case for community organizations and businesses regarding the benefits of committing to an inclusive workplace, and advocate the rewards associated with adopting effective employment practices that welcome people with diverse abilities.” 

Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is the assistant editor of Community Rec Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com.

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